I tend to keep my mouth shut on certain people in the liberty movement. I don’t like to attack people who do good work sometimes, and I don’t like to bring attention to those whom I think are doing terrible work. But when Paulie Doyle wrote an exposé on Stefan Molyneux this week on Buzzfeed, I realized more needed to be said.
There are some people in the liberty movement, like Molyneux, who do both good and terrible work. For someone as well-known as he is in the liberty world, parsing one from the other is especially important.
Stefan Molyneux has brilliant ideas on markets, minimum wage, and anarchy. I respect his views on bitcoin and atheism tremendously. His articulation of peaceful parenting is lovely. His concept of Universally Preferable Behavior is a thoughtful tool to build upon, though it is not a complete philosophy. He’s very eloquent as a vegetarian about his preference not to aggress upon animals.
Many of his ideas, however, are terrible. His videos are often filled with baseless assumptions about other people’s motivations. His commentary on women, gender relations, medical psychiatry, and removing yourself from your Family of Origin are somewhat disturbing, and many of his arguments don’t seem to be based in sourced fact.
I’ve tried to willfully ignore many of his writings or videos on male-female dynamics or counseling people on de-FOOing. I’ve read terrible accounts about the experiences people have had with his “cult of personality.” However great peaceful parenting might be, I don’t think it alone can “rid the world of evil.” His commentary on things like Robin Williams’ death make me sad that he calls himself a philosopher, since so much of what he says is unsubstantiated speculation presented as fact to serve his own agenda.
The worst part about him and many other “philosophers,” particularly in liberty spaces, is when they claim some absolute knowledge of objective truth. They do this often while not acknowledging their own emotional and intellectual biases that grow from limited experiences or confirmation bias, not necessarily applicable to others. Molyneux often doesn’t deal in complete, verifiable facts and passes his opinions off as if they are, then counsels other people with them.
His attempts to convince everyone that they’re a victim and only his ideas can lead them to empowerment is pretty much exactly what he accuses feminism of doing. His self importance and the level to which his followers often unquestioningly adopt his ideas and concepts make me worry, as cult leaders are not something we need in liberty.
Despite all this, I have compassion. By his own account, he was abused by his emotionally unbalanced mother, which explains some of his over-emotional assumptions about parent-child relationships and single mothers. It doesn’t justify his opinions, particularly as he attempts to assign them to other people’s lives, but I have some empathy for the inner turmoil that is caused when your parents are cruel and abusive.
Ultimately, I see a suffering human being with emotional problems who seeks “logical” solutions to some of his issues. He then gets caught up in self-affirming fallacious logic to justify his own emotional reactions and biases. What he really should be doing is challenging those biases.
I have tremendous sympathy for him, but then I see how he uses his prejudices to make himself money, destroy other people’s relationships and lives, and lead them to conclusions which are not based in critical thought. My sympathy wanes.
The piece linked to at the beginning of this article is a hit piece, and I wish that wasn’t necessary. People are flawed and often compensate for their weaknesses, so I find it important to shine light on them entirely instead.
Sympathy does not render someone immune to having light shed on their faults. Stefan Molyneux is not a great philosopher king: he rejects his own conclusions when it serves him. He is not the savior of the world. He cannot solve all your problems. Some of my biggest criticisms of Molyneux involve his attachment to false premises, his speculations passed off as “fact”, and his presumptions that he knows the truth of people’s motivations. I’d rather avoid engaging in those tactics while criticizing him.
Be a critical thinker. Take your Molyneux with a giant block of salt, and figure out your own damn truth.
Follow up article: Stefan Molyneux & the Gun in the RoomPost publication edit: This article originally incorrectly stated that Molyneux is vegan, he is in fact vegetarian.